Those familiar with alternative power recognize the 12v solar panel as one of the workhorses of energy production. These panels are not huge, nor are they especially powerful. They are very popular, though, because they get the job done (albeit a bit slowly).
12V Solar Panels are Cheap Power on the Go
These panels work just like their larger cousins: they are made up of many photovoltaic cell that transform the sun's rays into electrical power. What sets them apart is the fact that, because of their size, they are especially mobile. Boaters and RV enthusiasts have been using them for years to keep their battery banks juiced up so that they can power their on-board lights, gadgets and appliances. Their portability also makes them an excellent choice for those who want to be able to charge their laptops, ipads and cellphones when away from conventional electric outlets--such as on hiking and camping trips. With the advent of thin-film technology, panels can even be rolled up and carried on one's backpack, much like a sleeping bag.
Another reason for their favored status is that these units are widely available and very moderately priced. Professional installation is usually not needed, unlike traditional residential solar power systems, representing a sizable cost savings. All the components necessary for the system, such as inverters and wiring, are also smaller scale and therefore less expensive. Often, people on a budget will use these systems to "try out" solar power before investing in a larger system, since more panels can easily be added later.
A Solar Car Battery Charger Can be a True Convenience
Another reason that these panels are in such demand is that they are commonly used to charge the batteries of cars and other vehicles. Technically, these are trickle chargers, meaning that they keep a charge in a battery being stored, say, in a vehicle or piece of machinery that is used only once in a while. These panels will not revive a dead battery, however. The convenience of never having to jump a battery and being able to use free power to maintain the battery makes these 12v solar panels a worthwhile investment. Another plus is that the flexible panels are very easy to roll up and store--no more worrying about breaking the glass front of a rigid panel in a busy garage!
These panels are also used to charge deep-cycle batteries, such as those used in whole-house solar energy systems or remote cabins. They should be eligible for any government incentive program, just like any other solar panel, which would make them the least expensive solar starter kit ever.